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White House moves toward government shutdown, vowing 'whatever is necessary' to secure money for a border wall

White House moves toward government shutdown, vowing 'whatever is necessary' to secure money for a border wall
About 30 people attend an America First rally Saturday on the Camino de la Plaza Bridge near the San Ysidro border crossing, supporting President Trump and the building of his proposed border wall. (Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Trump administration signaled Sunday that it would not compromise to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of this week, with senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller declaring that “we’re going to do whatever is necessary” to secure money for the president’s much-vaunted border wall.

From the Democratic side, meanwhile, came fresh admonitions that the White House and congressional Republicans would bear responsibility if a shutdown disrupts multiple government agencies during the year-end holiday season. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York called on Republican leaders Sunday to stand up to Trump’s “temper tantrum” demands for $5 billion in funding for the wall.

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The idea of a wall is deeply unpopular among Democratic voters, and party leaders have little incentive to bail Republicans out of a politically difficult situation just weeks before the Democrats retake control of the House in January.

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have urgently tried to avoid a shutdown and thought earlier this month that they had Trump’s agreement.

But after a tumultuous week that saw the appointment of a new acting White House chief of staff and the resignation of scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, together with an escalation of the president’s legal exposure on multiple fronts, Trump has appeared at times to relish the idea of a highly public confrontation over the border wall, his signature issue.

In a televised showdown at the White House on Tuesday with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – soon to take the speaker’s gavel – Trump asserted he would be “proud” to preside over a partial shutdown beginning at midnight Friday if his demands go unmet.

Many Republican lawmakers do not share that enthusiasm. In the waning days of GOP control over both legislative branches, there would be little way to spin a shutdown as being the fault of Democrats. Trump has been unable to persuade his own party to support the $5-billion wall expenditure he has demanded. House leaders have sent their members home until Wednesday night in part to avoid pressure to put Trump’s plan up for a vote, which they fear they would lose.

Congress already has passed legislation to cover around three-quarters of federal government spending that requires annual approval. Agencies that have been funded through September include the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services. In addition, some of the government’s biggest spending programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, do not require annual appropriations and would not be affected by a shutdown.

Still, a partial shutdown could be widely felt, affecting departments including Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce and a host of smaller agencies. The administration has refused so far to release detailed plans for a shutdown, but a wide range of government operations and services could close down temporarily or be restricted, including national parks, passport and visa offices, small-business loans and public health.

About one-third of the federal government’s 2.1 million civilian employees would not get paid during a shutdown, although many would be expected to show up for work without pay. In past shutdowns, workers have gotten retroactive pay once the standoff ends, but that’s not guaranteed.

California is home to about 250,000 federal workers.

A senior Democratic senator, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said a prospective shutdown would be “entirely in the hands” of Trump after the president spurned earlier efforts to craft a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.

“He bragged that this was his decision,” Durbin said on ABC’s “This Week,” citing Trump’s apparent fixation with building a “$5-billion sea-to-shining-sea wall.”

Schumer and Pelosi have offered $1.6 billion for border security, including upgrades of existing fencing, but Schumer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump is “not going to get the wall in any form.”

“Republicans just have to have the guts to tell President Trump he’s off the deep end here, and all he’s going to get with his temper tantrum is a shutdown,” Schumer said.

Miller, the architect of some of the administration’s most draconian immigration policies, faulted what he referred to as the “Democrat” party for being unwilling to take needed steps to secure the southern border.

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Interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Miller said the administration was “absolutely” prepared to force a partial shutdown over the wall.

“This is a very fundamental issue,” he said. “At stake is the question of whether or not the U.S. remains a sovereign country, whether or not we can establish and enforce rules for entrance into our country.”

Sending Miller out as the administration’s spokesman sent a clear message. His anti-immigration stance has underpinned the often strident policy pronouncements about the southern border which Trump has emphasized -- a strategy that seemingly went awry in last month’s midterm elections, when Democrats swept to victory in the House despite Trump’s efforts to emphasize immigration issues in the campaign’s final days.

In the CBS interview, Miller also touched on one of the most searing recent stories to emerge from the border zone, the death in Border Patrol custody of a 7-year-old Guatemalan child. He called the girl’s death tragic, but blamed smugglers and what he termed “left-wing” judicial rulings that “incentivize the most vulnerable populations to come to our country.”

With the House switching hands in January, Trump’s legislative backers see the coming week as a final chance to secure wall funding that Trump could tout as a victory on an issue his base has embraced like no other.

A compromise to stave off a partial shutdown starting Saturday is still possible, but the White House has indicated to lawmakers that Trump would not support a stopgap measure to maintain full government operations for a week or two. Republican leaders had floated that as an option to get past the standoff.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he hoped Trump would reconsider, citing the hardship to thousands of federal workers who would risk either seeing their salaries deferred or being furloughed without pay.

“Whenever I hear a president say to the American people at Christmastime, ‘I am going to shut down your government,’ it pains me, because I know that that's going to make a bad Christmas for a lot of people,” said the Maryland Democrat, whose district is home to many federal workers. “They don't want government to hurt them. They want government to help them.”

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